Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous works of English literature, written and published during the Regency Period of British literature.
The story centers around the Bennet family, the parents of which are wanting to find husbands for their daughters. They have heard a rich suitor has moved nearby and hope he will marry one of their daughters. The main character is the second-oldest daughter, Elizabeth, and the story centers around her relationship with the disagreeable yet wealthy Mr. Darcy.
The novel features Elizabeth as an unusually dynamic female lead for the Victorian time period. She searches to find meaning in herself amidst proud and false people, learning about the superficiality of manners, economic class inequalities, and how to experience love as something outside of the social expectations placed upon her to marry a man with more wealth than her family’s.
Literary Elements of Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Type of Work: Fiction/novel
Published Date: 1813
Setting: Somewhere between the late 1700s-early 1800s in Brighton, London, and Hertfordshire (England)
Main Characters: Elizabeth Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane Bennet, Charles Bingley, Mr. & Mrs. Bennet
Protagonist/Antagonist: Protagonist – Elizabeth Bennet; Antagonist – Mrs. Bennett wants Elizabeth to marry someone she does not love, and Lady de Bourgh tries to stop her from marrying Mr. Darcy after they become engaged.
Major Thematic Elements: Overcoming obstacles in love, reputation as a restriction, class and social/economic status, family, breaking gender barriers, pride and integrity
Motifs: Travel, courtship
Exposition: Elizabeth navigates the other characters’ wishes for her versus her own wishes for herself
Plot: chronological and linear
Major Symbols: Darcy’s home, Pemberley is symbol representing the man who owns it. The novel is largely dependent on dialogue and therefore this is the only major symbol in the novel. Elizabeth doesn’t truly begin to understand Darcy until she visits Pemberley.
Climax: Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth
Literary Significance of Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice was written before the Victorian period during King George IV’s regency period. The novel was widely influential because it was able to portray everyday events in a realistic way that, rather than coming off as mundane, became interesting and colorful stories that resulted in an extremely popular novel.
Since the plot occurs chronologically, readers experience the events of the story alongside the characters which allows them to feel close to and bonded with the characters. Furthermore, the subversive presentation of concepts like gender, wealth and status, and frivolous societal expectations gave the novel its timeless appeal that continues to impress new readers to this day.
The novel is widely studied in English classes because it speaks to issues that many people still face while being neatly presented as a romance. The book appeals to regular people with regular problems, which tends to reach wide audiences.
Beyond this, Austen used the romance genre to also make digs at and create commentary around societal issues. This, in turn, prompts others to question the structures that they find themselves inherently a part of. Is it worth following blindly, or can we achieve greater happiness and success if we are willing to subvert societal expectations?
Pride and Prejudice Book Summary
The novel opens with Mr. and Mrs. Bingley discussing the news that a wealthy young man, Charles Bingley, has just moved into the area. They hope that he will want to marry one of their five daughters. Mrs. Bennet is especially anxious to see her daughters married to someone of greater wealth than themselves. Mr. Bennet tells her that he will pay a visit to Mr. Bingley. He does so and arranges for his daughters to attend the ball he is having. At the ball, Mr. Bingley finds himself taken with the eldest daughter, Jane, and dances with her. His friend, Mr. Darcy, is seen as arrogant when he refuses to dance.
As social engagements in the community continue, Mr. Darcy finds himself charmed by Elizabeth’s quick wit and intelligence. Jane and Bingley continue to admire one another, and Jane visits his home, Netherfield. However, she catches an illness in the bad weather on the way there and is forced to stay for some time to recover. Elizabeth walks the entire distance in determination to see her sister and care for her. Elizabeth arrives covered in mud which annoys Mr. Bingley’s sister. Elizabeth managers to annoy her further once Miss Bingley realizes that Mr. Darcy likes Elizabeth instead of her.
Once Jane is well enough to travel, she and Elizabeth return home to find their distant cousin, Mr. Collins, visiting. It is revealed that since the Bennets had no male children, Mr. Collins will be the inheritor of the family’s estate. Elizabeth finds Mr. Collins to be rather obnoxious but he is taken with her. Mrs. Bennet pushes Elizabeth to enter a courtship with Mr. Collins so that the security of their home and property will be secure. He proposes to Elizabeth, but she declines.
There are military men in town and the Bennet sisters become friendly with them. Elizabeth meets a young man named Wickham who tells her that Darcy cheated him out of his inheritance. The Bingleys and Darcy leave for London with Elizabeth’s perception of Darcy having just been soured by the information she learned.
News comes out that Elizabeth’s best friend has married Mr. Collins and Jane finds that it is difficult to get ahold of Mr. Bingley. The marriage prospects for any of the daughters begin to appear bleak. In the Spring, Elizabeth visits her friend at hers and Mr. Collins’s home and meets Darcy’s aunt, Lady de Bourgh. While Elizabeth is there, Darcy pays a visit. They talk and he makes an unexpected proposal. Elizabeth tells him that his is arrogant and refuses. Later, he writes her a letter in which he explains what transpired between himself and Wickham. He also admits to encouraging Bingley to distance himself from Jane, but only because he did not realize the relationship had serious marriage potential.
Elizabeth reconsiders her anger and annoyance towards Darcy and returns home. Elizabeth agrees to go on a trip with some family friends and winds up at Darcy’s estate, Pemberley. The visits, after getting assurance that Darcy is away. She admires the beautiful estate and is taken by the scenery of it all. Without warning, Darcy arrives home and acts pleasantly towards Elizabeth, making no mention of the past proposal.
Elizabeth gets notice that her younger sister, Lydia, has run away with Wickham. They are nowhere to be found which makes Elizabeth fear that they are living together out of wedlock and will bring disgrace to her family. She quickly returns home to find out that Lydia and Wickham were found and that he has agreed to marry Lydia in exchange for an annual payment. Elizabeth discovers that Darcy paid off Wickham to save her and her family’s reputations.
Bingley returns to Netherfield and begins courting Jane once more. Darcy visits him and pays a visit to the Bennets but still does not mention anything about his proposal or any intentions to court Elizabeth. Bingley proposes to Jane which delights the entire family. Lady de Bourgh shows up and tells Elizabeth that she has heard that Darcy intends to marry Elizabeth. She does not agree and sees the Bennets as a family too far beneath her own. Lady de Bourgh demands that Elizabeth refuse his proposal, but Elizabeth will not agree to do such a thing. She refuses to promise anything that will go against her own chances at happiness. Shortly thereafter, Darcy does propose to Elizabeth and she accepts.